Friday, August 30, 2013

This Relationship Corner: Indulge Each Other

A while back my wife flipped for a new book called The Art of Clean Up. It's by artist Ursus Wehrli, and the book is all about his efforts to put the world in order. He takes a normal scene and pulls it apart bit by bit, and organizes each component into separate categories. I wouldn't have given this book a second look, but this is in my wife's wheelhouse. Naturally, I got it for her.

Earlier this year my my wife and I were shopping and we happened upon some pajama pants. These were no ordinary pants, there were emblazoned with the face of Mario, of Super Mario Brothers fame, and my inner geek loved those pants. My wife was never a Mario devotee, but she knows how much money that plumber has taken from me over my lifetime. She got those pajama pants for me.

What is the point of these two anecdotes, besides the fact that my wife and I have eccentric and geeky tastes? It's that when we saw something that would make each other happy, we went for it. It might not be our taste, we might not quite understand it, but that doesn't mean we can't indulge one another. In fact, these small indulgences are part of maintaining a healthy relationship.

Before we get any further, I want to clarify that I'm talking about healthy indulgences that don't endanger anyone's life, livelihood, or property. This isn't something that degrades anyone or might result in criminal charges. It's not indulging in dangerous, risky, or unhealthy behavior. Rather, these are healthy and reasonable indulgences. I just wanted to make that clear.

Part of being in a successful relationship is being other oriented. We don't just see things from our point of view, but we are willing to see past ourselves and try to see things from another person's perspective, in this case a significant other. It's a large part empathy, and it's as simple as asking a question: what would make my partner happy?

Perhaps it's food. Cooking, and food, is often an indulgence, as preparing a great dish requires an investment of time, effort, and expense. Going out to eat requires less effort, but you'll pay for quality. From a utilitarian standpoint, it doesn't make sense to spend that much time and effort on something that will be digested in a few hours. Why not simply get the cheapest, fastest food?

Because food is more than just taking care of a basic biological need. Food is life, a part of celebrations, important events, and romantic evenings. The effort and expense is part of the experience, especially if you have a favorite dish that always makes you feel good.

One of the first things you should learn is your partner's favorite foods, and keep this list up-to-date. Every once in a while, offer to make your partner's favorite food. Be willing to invest the time, aggravation, and money it takes, because the payoff will be a stronger relationship. Even if this dish isn't your favorite, it will mean so much if you are willing to make it.

You can do the same thing with date night, going to something that you might not be into but your partner enjoys. You might also spend a quiet evening at home if your partner doesn't feel like going out. It might be supporting your partner's hobby or simply letting them choose what to watch on television. It could be listening to them talk about their passions and hobbies and encouraging them to always tell you about it.

The more you get to know your partner, the more you'll know how to pamper them and the more personal the offerings. This is why communication, listening, and remembering are critical. Don't just get them candy, for instance, as you could get them the type of candy they liked as a kid and haven't had in years. You don't just have to buy things or spend money at all. It can be as simple as a foot-rub or playing their favorite board game.The fact that you know this is what they want will mean just as much as the act itself.

Now, you might think that I'm arguing to give in order to get. After all, if you're willing to indulge your partner, your partner will be more willing to do the same. And while that might be a byproduct of these indulgences, that's not why you do them. That kind of mercenary tit-for-tat relationship is not actually healthy. It turns every act into a transaction, and it cheapens your relationship.

No, the reason you want to indulge, pamper, or even spoil is because it makes you feel good. You should want to indulge this person for the sheer pleasure of giving them what they want. Seeing the love of your life smile, laugh, savor, and otherwise enjoy themselves should be your primary motivation.

This is a test, believe it or not, and it will tell you a lot about yourself and how you view this relationship. Do you indulge willingly or begrudgingly? Is this a person you want to pamper or are you only looking to be served? Your willingness to selflessly indulge is an indicator of whether you want to be in this current relationship.

Your job, in a long-term relationship, is to spoil the other person. That's your role. Your partner needs to know that you, above all others, will indulge them. When life is hard out in the world, when it seems everyone else is trying to suck the life out of them, you need to step up and restore life with a small, or sometimes large, indulgence. For no other reason than they need it.

Indulging is one way you show that you care and are always thinking about your partner. When you say "Yes, we can do this" or "Of course I'll make you your favorite meal," you are demonstrating that other-oriented perspective vital to a strong relationship. When that desire and willingness to indulge goes away, that's a problem.

Ask yourself this. Do you want to indulge this person, or does indulging them grate on you? Because if you find that you don't want to indulge at all, that might be a sign that this will not be a long-term relationship. There are many tests of compatibility in relationships, and how you feel about indulging your partner is one of those signs.

Of course, we need to understand that part of a healthy relationship is putting limits on these indulgences. Just as it's unhealthy to only look for what you can get out of a relationship, it's equally unhealthy to constantly indulge. You shouldn't buy presents every single day or make every night a spectacular date night, because that becomes less about indulgence and more about trying to buy this person's affections. If they only stick around because you indulge them, it isn't a healthy relationship.

You can't go so far on the indulgences that you lose yourself, your only purpose to give, give, give. You are an equal part of this relationship, and it should still function in a healthy and productive manner without an indulgence. This is another test for the relationship. Can it survive when you don't indulge for once? A healthy relationship appreciates indulgences but doesn't dissolve without them.

A healthy relationship is also a two-way street of indulgences. While you don't want to indulge for the sole purpose of getting something back, it's not unreasonable to expect that your partner indulge you with the same consistency as you indulge them. Does your partner want to make you happy? Does your happiness matter to them? Are they willing to put a lot of effort into these indulgences?

Ultimately you will have to be the judge, as everyone has different preferences. You do have the right in a relationship to expect the other person to invest as much as you invest. You should expect the one you are with to be the person who is willing to indulge you. After all, if the two of you can't indulge each other, who will?

Indulging each other is not the only factor of a healthy relationship, but it does play a part. Being able to do it right shows that you truly know your significant other and are invested in the relationship. If you haven't indulged your partner in a while, or if you've never done so, give it a shot. It might invigorate the relationship, or at the very least, you'll find that you get just as much pleasure indulging as your partner does being indulged.

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